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How Not to Flip Out: Flip the Clinic

Jan 27, 2015, 4:38 PM, Posted by Beth Toner

Flip the Clinic San Francisco January 2015 Hard at work at the first regional Flip the Clinic meeting in San Francisco

“If you’ve been waiting more than 15 minutes, please see the receptionist.”

That’s the sign that was posted on a bulletin board in the radiology clinic where I was waiting for an MRI earlier this month. The funny thing? It was so lost amid the other postings around it screaming for attention that I only saw it on my way out, as I waited for a copy of the disk with my MRI on it. It struck me as odd, and a little concerning; did that mean I should be worried the clinic staff might have forgotten about me if I’d been waiting more than 15 minutes?

Don’t get me wrong: I understand that unpreventable delays happen. For me, the most frustrating aspect of signs like this is that they take the power away from the patient. 

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The Front Line of Medicine

Dec 18, 2014, 9:00 AM

For the 25th anniversary of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP), the Human Capital Blog is publishing scholar profiles, some reprinted from the program’s website. SMDEP is a six-week academic enrichment program that has created a pathway for more than 22,000 participants, opening the doors to life-changing opportunities. Following is a profile of Juan Jose Ferreris, MD, a member of the Class of 1989.

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.’

The words of abolitionist Frederick Douglass resonate for Juan Jose Ferreris, a pediatrician and assistant clinical adjunct professor at University of Texas Health Science Center. He sees a straight line between the public funds allocated for children’s care and their well-being as adults.

“Kids receive less than 20 cents of every health care dollar. Meanwhile, 80 percent goes to adult end-of-life care. Why aren’t we spending those funds on people when they’re young, when it could make a genuine difference?”

Ferreris contends that money also shapes health in less obvious ways. Salaries of primary care physicians are well below those of more “glamorous” specialists. Some fledgling MDs, burdened with medical school debt, reason that they can’t afford not to specialize. Consequently, he says, only 3 percent of medical students choose primary care.

For Ferreris, who is both humbled and inspired by his young patients, building a Culture of Health necessitates recalibrating priorities.

“Nobody’s concentrating on the whole; they’re only looking at one part. And they’re not paying attention to the human—the brain, the spirit, the soul.

“We overlook that aspect...but it’s where I believe the primary care doctor has irreplaceable value.”

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How Cataract Surgery Helped Me See the Future of Health Transparency

Dec 12, 2014, 1:34 PM, Posted by Risa Lavizzo-Mourey

Robotic Surgery

More and more health care costs are shifted to consumers. So why, asks RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, can’t we easily discover and compare health care costs and quality?

Here’s how the subject came up. Recently, Lavizzo-Mourey underwent cataract surgery at an outpatient center in Philadelphia. No matter whom she talked to—and she was shunted from one person to the next—she could not learn the all-in cost of the procedure.

Lavizzo-Mourey finally did manage to find out the cost of her surgery: $2,000, including co-pays and deductible. But the whole episode, she says, is illustrative of a larger problem.

Writing in a recent blog post on the professional social networking site LinkedIn, Lavizzo-Mourey asks: “Could there be a clearer example of the lack of transparency in the U.S. health care system?”

To get the information we need, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is funding a set of studies to help us better understand how greater price transparency influences consumer and provider decisions. “And in March,” Lavizzo-Mourey adds, “we will host a summit on transparency that will attempt to come up with more answers."

Along those lines, RWJF last year issued a challenge to developers to devise consumer-friendly tools to parse the abundant hospital price data released by Medicare. The winner? Consumer Reports, for the Consumer Reports Hospital Adviser: Hip & Knee, a personalized app for health care consumers seeking the best hospital for hip or knee replacement surgery.

You can help us move the cost and quality needle forward. Do you know of any other price/quality apps or tools? Let us know.

New Online Resource Provides Tools for Transforming Primary Care

Dec 4, 2014, 9:00 AM, Posted by Ed Wagner

Ed Wagner, MD, MPH

Better care. Healthier patients. Happier staff.  A new online resource provides practical, hands-on tools to build better primary care teams that can put those outcomes within reach.

Nationwide, primary care practices are finding that creating more effective practice teams is the key to becoming a patient-centered medical home, improving patients’ health, and increasing productivity. The Improving Primary Care Team Guide (Team Guide) is a free online resource for primary care practices working to do just that. It:

  • Provides hands-on tools and resources that are actionable and measureable
  • Is appropriate for practices at any stage of development
  • Includes modules that enable practices to easily pinpoint relevant topics and areas of interest

The new Team Guide presents practical advice, case studies, and tools from 31 exemplary primary care practices across the country that have markedly improved care, efficiency, and job satisfaction by transforming to a team-based approach. For the last three years, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the LEAP team has identified, studied, and engaged these practices to develop the lessons contained in the Team Guide. 

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What Determines Your Health?

Nov 17, 2014, 9:00 AM, Posted by Minoo Sarkarati

Minoo Sarkarati

What determines your health?  Is it your ZIP code? Is it the clinic or hospital you go to? Is it the physician you see? Or is it you?

American Public Health Association Meeting & Expo

I could not say that the answer to this critical question is solely any one of these. However, understanding how each component plays a role in one’s health, as well as exploring further determinants, is vital to building healthier communities.

This year’s American Public Health Association (APHA) Meeting theme is Healthography. It is an opportunity to explore how our environment—whether it is access to clean air, safe housing, transportation, healthy foods, safe places to exercise, jobs, or quality health care—plays a role in our health. 

As a medical student training in a safety-net hospital, I have seen how each of these elements plays a role in one’s health. Without addressing these factors, a large part of medical care is lost. Encouraging regular exercise is not so simple when you do not have sidewalks or green spaces, or you do not feel safe being outside in your neighborhood. Writing a prescription to treat diabetes becomes meaningless if your patient cannot fill it because he/she does not make enough income to purchase the medication.

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Misfortune at Birth

Nov 14, 2014, 8:00 AM, Posted by Eileen Lake

Eileen Lake, PhD, RN, FAAN, and Jeannette Rogowski, PhD, are co-principal investigators of a study, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative, that generated evidence linking nurse staffing and work environments to infant outcomes in a national sample of neonatal intensive care units.* A new documentary, “Surviving Year One,” examines infant mortality in Rochester, N.Y. and nationwide. It is being shown on PBS and World Channel stations (check local listings). Read more about it on the RWJF Culture of Health Blog here and here.

Eileen Lake (Smaller photo) Eileen Lake

Are some premature babies simply born in the wrong place? Premature babies are fragile at birth and most infant deaths in this country are due to prematurity.  It is well established that blacks have poorer health than whites in our country, but the origin of these disparities is still a mystery.  It’s possible that the hospital in which a child is born may tell us why certain population groups have poorer health.

A new study by University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers investigators that I led shows that seven out of ten black infants with very low birth weights (less than 3.2 lbs.) in the United States have the simple misfortune of being born in inferior hospitals. What makes these hospitals inferior?  A big component is lower nurse staffing ratios and work environments that are less supportive of excellent nursing practice than other hospitals.  Our study, which was funded by the RWJF Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative, indicates that the hospitals in which infants are born can affect their health all their lives. 

Jeannette Rogowski Jeannette Rogowski

A Brighter Future

What can be done to make these hospitals better?  A first step would be to include nurses in decisions at all levels of the hospital, as recommended by the Institute of Medicine to position nursing to lead change and advance health. Laws in seven states require hospitals to have staff nurses participate in developing plans for safe staffing levels on all units.

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Let’s Put Veterans in Charge of Their Pain Care

Nov 11, 2014, 9:00 AM, Posted by Erin Krebs

Erin Krebs, MD, MPH, is the women’s health medical director at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System and associate professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School. She is an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Physician Faculty Scholars program and the RWJF Clinical Scholars program.

Erin Krebs (Veterans Day)

How can we create a Culture of Health that effectively serves veterans? We can put veterans in charge of their pain care.

Chronic pain is an enormous public health problem and a leading cause of disability in the United States. Although 2000-2010 was the “decade of pain control and research” in the United States, plenty of evidence suggests that our usual approaches to managing chronic pain aren’t working. Veterans and other people with chronic pain see many health care providers, yet often describe feeling unheard, poorly understood, and disempowered by their interactions with the health care system.

Evidence supports the effectiveness of a variety of “low tech-high touch” non-pharmacological approaches to pain management, but these approaches are not well aligned with the structure of the U.S. health care system and are often too difficult for people with pain to access. Studies demonstrate that patients with chronic pain are subjected to too many unnecessary diagnostic tests, too many ineffective procedures, and too many high-risk medications.

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Transparency in Health Care? Sadly, That's Not How We Roll.

Nov 7, 2014, 3:13 PM, Posted by Andrea Ducas

Patrick Toussaint Andrea’s husband, Patrick Toussaint, using his super strength to tighten a lug nut.

What do changing a flat tire and scheduling a surgical procedure have in common? Nothing. And that’s the problem.

Last month, on our way home to New Jersey from Boston, my husband and I got a flat tire. And while this is a dreaded possibility on any road trip, it happened to us at 9 p.m. on a Sunday. No shops were open, and with an early morning flight just a few hours away we didn’t have time to wait for AAA.

At this point it’s important to emphasize that neither my husband nor I know a thing about cars. We didn’t even know we had a jack or spare in the trunk until we called my uncle, who teased us (“You have a new car! Everything you need is in the back!”) and gave us the pep talk we needed. So we pulled out our owner’s manual.

I’m not sure who that manual is written for, but it clearly isn’t for us. After five minutes of thinking I’d need to call the airline and book a later flight, I realized: There is a better way. I pulled out my iPhone, Googled “how to change a flat tire,” and called up a YouTube video and a step-by-step, picture-guided Wikihow article. Within 20 minutes, the tire was changed, our spare was filled with air to 60 psi, and we were on our way.

So what does any of this have to do with health care? Unfortunately, not very much.

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Big (Box) Medicine?

Nov 6, 2014, 4:55 PM, Posted by Michael Painter

Lucy in the chocolate factory

Let’s see a show of hands. Who among us, doctor, nurse, patient, family member, wants to give or get health care inspired by a factory—Cheesecake or any other?

Anyone?

I didn’t think so.

True confession: I have never actually eaten at a Cheesecake Factory (hereinafter referred to as the Factory). My wife, Mary, and I did enter one once. We were returning from a summer driving vacation. Dinnertime arrived, and we found ourselves at a mall walking into a busy Factory.

It seemed popular. The wait was long—really long. We got our light-up-wait-for-your-table device. We perused the menu. There was a lot there. Portions seemed gigantic. We looked at each other and, almost without speaking, walked back to the hostess, returned our waiting device and left.

You got me—I cannot say 100 percent that I wouldn’t love Factory food. We were so close that one time!

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Patients Pleased With Care from Physician Assistants

Oct 29, 2014, 9:00 AM

Physician assistants (PAs) received high marks from patients in a recent survey conducted by Harris Poll for the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA). Among 680 Americans (out of more than 1,500 surveyed) who have interacted with a PA in the past year, 93 percent see PAs as part of the solution to the nation’s shortage of health care providers; 93 percent regard PAs as trusted health care providers; and 91 percent agree that PAs improve health outcomes for patients.

“The survey results prove what we have known to be true for years: PAs are an essential element in the health care equation and America needs PAs now more than ever,” AAPA President John McGinnity, MS, PA-C, DFAAPA, said in a news release. “When PAs are on the health care team, patients know they can count on receiving high-quality care, which is particularly important as the system moves toward a fee-for-value structure.”

The AAPA points out that more than 100,000 PAs practice medicine in the United States and on U.S. military bases worldwide. A typical PA will treat 3,500 patients in a year, the association says, conducting physical exams, diagnosing and treating illnesses, ordering and interpreting tests, prescribing medication, and assisting in surgery.

Read more about the AAPA survey.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.